By | 25 February 2010

You might be surprised to know what goes into yoga mats  – yoga might not be as healthy as you think.

Apparently, yogis used to sit on tiger skins, as a representation of the domination of the ego. Not a choice many of us would make today but, what are the alternatives and are they safe?

Standard Sticky Yoga Mats
These are cheap and cheerful but with some serious health and environmental concerns. The majority of standard yoga mats are made of PVC. To make them flexible they have phthalates added (as much as 60%). Phthalates are not chemically bound to the PVC so they leach out over time. Phthalates have been proven to cause genetic abnormalities to the sexual organs of male rats. In humans the feminisation of boys may be linked to exposure in the womb. The phthalate industry argues that there is no evidence of the same effect in humans but why take the risk?

This isn’t a scientific article, it’s about yoga mats, I like to take a balanced view of “scare stories” but I have been so surprised by the research I’ve done into phthalates and the environmental impact of PVC production. That I’ve written another blog post about it called ‘discount mats for yoga?’. If you have the time, check it out for yourself and make your own mind up but, I wouldn’t buy a PVC yoga mat again.

Eco Yoga Mats
These are foam type yoga mats that look and feel similar to standard sticky  yoga mats but, they are generally non toxic, environmentally friendly and biodegradable. Many contain latex (a natural rubber product) but some people suffer from latex allergies so beware.

TPE and PER are new plastics without the health and environmental concerns of PVC and without the allergy problems of latex. They combine grip and comfort with often impeccable eco credentials.

Rubber Yoga Mats
Natural rubber is a renewable resource tapped from rubber trees. Rubber yoga mats provide excellent cushioning and grip with durability. Perfect if you’re concerned about the environment but, some people complain about the smell and again they may not be suitable for latex allergy sufferers.

Jute/Seagrass Yoga Mats
Jute and Seagrass are also used in yoga mats. They are natural, hard wearing and sustainable but hard on their own, so they are usually combined with rubber in yoga mats to provide the padding and the grip.

Wool Yoga Mats
I have seen sheepskins recommended as yoga mats. These would be very comfortable for some poses but, unless you can grip the wool between your toes, very slippery. Felted woollen blankets can also be used as yoga mats but again grip and comfort is a problem.

Cotton Yoga Mats
Cotton yoga mats come in two main types –

The traditional decorative mat made of tightly woven cotton is good for the absorption of sweat in ashtanga yoga and grip increases as the mat gets wetter. Many people like the traditional look and style of these yoga mats but they are much thinner than foam yoga mats and for this reason most are used on top of a foam yoga mat. Be aware that many yoga mats advertised as ‘traditional’ are in fact made of man made fibers. Not necessarily a problem, but do your homework if you’d rather have natural cotton.

Stuffed or futon style, extra thick cotton yoga mats are great for comfort and, perfect for relaxation but, virtually impossible for balance.  They are designed for restorative yoga and meditation and are generally used only for sitting and laying on.  They’re too bulky for a yoga class and unsuitable for standing poses but fantastic for relaxing at home.  They will also slip on wooden floors so you may want to put a sticky yoga mat underneath.

If you want to redesign your home some people have entirely replaced sofas and chairs with extra thick cotton yoga mats.

They are usually made with a cotton outer layer and stuffed with padding. This padding could be natural or man made and can give off toxins so again, do your homework.

If you practice yoga you most likely care about your health and the environment.  In which case choose a yoga mat that reflects those concerns.  There are plenty of healthy choices, but it definitely pays to stay informed.

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